The Boy who Learned the Songs of Birds
A Seneca Legend
Two brothers lived by themselves and supposed they were the only persons in the world. The younger was a little fellow but he did the thinking for both. Whatever he said the elder brother did. One day he said,--
"Brother, kill a turkey for me. I want two feathers." The young man killed a turkey and brought it home. When he gave it to the little boy he asked, "What are you going to do with the feathers?"
"I want them for a head-dress," answered the boy, and pulling two feathers from the turkey he gave them to his brother and asked him to fix them in a socket in such a way that they would turn with the wind.
When this was done, the little boy fastened the socket to a band and wore the feathers for a head-dress. At night he hung the head-dress on the wall over his couch but as soon as daylight came he put it on his head. One morning, when going out, he said to his brother, "I like my feathers and I am going to have a dance for them."
The young man watched till the boy disappeared behind a fallen tree. Soon he heard singing and then he heard dancing. He was frightened and said to himself, "Something is the matter with my brother."
When the boy came back, the young man asked, "What were you doing? Were you dancing behind that tree? Why did you go so far? Why didn't you dance right here with me, not go off alone."
"You don't know the songs I sing."
"I can learn them, then I can help you."
"If you want to help me, you may dance." "It isn't right for me to dance when I don't know how to sing, and haven't feathers in my hair."
'I will change places with you," said the little boy. "You may hunt small game and I will hunt deer. I have hunted birds, for from them I learn songs. Your game does not sing. But maybe I could not kill big game, I am so small, and maybe you couldn't kill birds, You are so large."
"Well," said the elder brother. "You may sing and dance all you want to, I will hunt."
The young man continued to hunt large game. Often when coming toward home, he heard his little brother' singing and dancing but as soon as the boy saw him be began to do something else, as though he had not been singing or dancing. This frightened the young man and made him think that something was going to happen, Once he asked his brother,--
"Why have you stopped hunting for birds?"
"I listen to their songs," said the boy. "That is why I don't shoot them."
One day he said to his brother, "My feathers are worn out. I want you to kill another turkey."
The young man killed the largest turkey he could find and brought it home.
"Skin the turkey," said the boy, "and make me a pouch."
When the pouch was finished, the young man gave it to his brother, and asked, "Do you like it?"
"Yes," said the boy. "It is just as I wanted it to be.
While the skin was drying, the boy often put it around his body and went off into the woods. When he came back to the cabin he took the skin off and hung it up.
"You must not go far from the cabin," said his brother.
"No," answered the boy. "I will stay near home and take care of things."
Once he said to his brother, "You must stay at home, not go hunting today. I want you to learn to sing my songs. What I do now will be for the people who are to come. I will make a rule that the people to come must wear feathers and dance and sing."
The elder brother studied over this and wondered how a little boy could have such thoughts.
"Now," said the boy, "I am going to sing a song. You must listen and learn it."
He sang a song.
"What is the name of that song?" asked the elder brother.
From singing the songs of the birds the boy had grown very wise. He said,--
"It is the song the people will sing when they wear feathers on their heads (War-song). You must be careful in singing it; if not, you will fall to the ground senseless. I sing what I have heard the birds sing. I give thanks as I have heard them do when I was hunting. I dance to my songs because I hear the birds sing and see them dance. We must do as they do. It will make us feel glad and happy."
One day when the brothers. were out looking around, they saw a large bird sitting on a tree. When the bird began to sing, the young man knew that his brother had learned its song for he had heard him sing it. "You are very wise," said he to the boy, "I think the Great Spirit tells the birds to teach us songs," and he began singing a song of his own, different from those his brother sang.
"Do you think I could dance to your song?" asked the little boy. "I'll try if you will sing it again."
Instead of singing, the elder brother said, "I will tell you the words of my song, they are, 'I am glad to see the day. I am thankful for the sunbeams.'"
"I know the song," said the boy. "It is different from mine. There isn't as much joy in it. When we are sad we will sing your song and gain courage. Now you must hunt for your kind of game and I will hunt for mine."
As the young man was starting off, the boy jumped into his turkey skin, and said, "Brother, I will go with you."
"Oh no," said his brother, "I go too far. You would get tired."
The boy insisted and at last the young man said, "You may go part of the way, but all of the way would be too far."
When they had gone a long distance, the young man said: "This is far enough for you to go. You must go back now."
The boy went home hopping and running exactly like a turkey.
The young man noticed that his brother was wearing his turkey skin all the time, that he wore it nights. He didn't like this and he asked him to take it off.
"You made it for me," said the boy. "I like to wear it."
The young man was fond of the boy so he didn't say any more. Afterward, when he mentioned the turkey skin, he always received the same answer. "You made it for me, and I like to wear it."
The boy played like a turkey and when he saw wild turkeys he imitated the noise they made. He was learning the habits of a turkey. The young man worried over this.
The boy no longer wore feathers on his head, and his voice began to change; it didn't sound like his voice. At last his brother told him to take the skin off.
The boy said, "I can't take it off. You will have to help me."
The young man pulled but couldn't get the skin off. It had grown to the boy's body.
Turkey said, "I shall stay with you always, but you must be careful; something is going to happen."
He was very wise now; his advice was better than ever; it was beyond the comprehension of his brother.
Once, when the young man came home, he couldn't find Turkey but the next morning he heard him on the roof of the cabin making the noise that a turkey makes at daybreak. He felt strangely, felt that his brother had become a real turkey. Soon he heard him jump down, then be came into the cabin, and said, "Brother, a woman is coming. I think she is coming for you. You must be careful. Something is going to happen to us. If you go with her, I shall follow you."
When the woman came near the cabin she saw a turkey standing in front of it. She looked at the bird but didn't say anything. Going into the cabin she said to the young man, "I have come for you."
"I will tell my brother and find out what he thinks about it," answered the young man. The woman didn't know the turkey she saw outside was the young man's brother,
He went to Turkey, and said, "A woman has come."
"Didn't I tell you one was coming. She is full of witchcraft and she will try to destroy us you must tell her that you are not ready to go, that you will start tomorrow. Something bad is going to happen to us."
The young man said to the woman, "I will go with you as soon as I can get ready."
Turkey determined to stay in the house that night. He hopped in and perched on a roost his brother made for him. The woman thought the boy was a tame turkey.
The next morning neither of the brothers could eat. The elder said, "I must go with this woman."
"It is wrong to go," said Turkey, "She has great power. It will be hard to outwit her."
When the woman and the young man started, Turkey followed them till he saw them turn and go toward the West, then he went back to the cabin. He was very lonely. The next morning he said to himself: "Poor brother, that woman has taken him away from me. She is going to kill him. I must go and see what is happening to him."
He traveled toward the West till he came to an opening in the woods. In the opening was a cabin.
"That must be the place," thought the boy.
An old woman who was in the cabin said to her daughter, "There is a turkey outside. It is tame. Maybe it has come to stay with us."
Right away the young man knew that his little brother had come. The women took a fancy to the turkey. They didn't think of trying to kill it. Toward night one of the women wanted to shut it up so it couldn't go away but the boy ran out and perched on the roof so as to see and hear everything.
The next morning, when the young man came out of the cabin his brother followed him, and asked: "Brother, how can you stay here and be abused by the old woman and her daughter? They don't give you anything to eat. They are going to kill you. I have come to tell you this and to tell you that I am going to save you."
Turkey started toward the East. As his brother watched him, he said, "I am glad he can go where he wants to."
Turkey was angry at the women. When he reached home, he thought, "I must get out of this skin, get my own form. I've been a turkey long enough," and he pulled and worked till at last he freed himself. He hung the skin up and put the feather band around his head, then he began to study over how he could free his brother. After a while he said, "This is what I will do," and going out he called to his medicine, Moose. As soon as he called Moose was there.
The boy said to it, "Go to the West, to where the old woman and her daughter live, when my brother comes out of the cabin, seize him and throw him onto your back, then run with all your strength. Take off your feathers (horns) and I will put mine onto your head; yours are too heavy to run with.
The Moose held its head down; the boy took off its horns and put his feather band in their place, saying, "When you come back, I will give you your feathers."
Moose ran off in the direction of the old woman's cabin and the boy said to himself, "He will soon come back." In a short time he heard a noise and going outside saw his brother clinging to Moose's back; he was so weak that he couldn't get off alone.
"I told you that something bad would happen," said the boy, "Now you have your punishment." To Moose he said, "Stand here a while." He helped his brother into the cabin and when he came back he changed feathers with Moose and sent him away.
"I am glad to have you back," said the boy to his brother. "We are free now from the old woman and her daughter and can live together in peace."
They lived together ever after and continued to learn the songs of birds.
From birds came all the Indian songs and dances.
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